BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Cancer vaccine specialist BioVex Ltd. is relocating headquarters from Oxford, UK, to the U.S., paving the way for a planned initial public offering on Nasdaq once it has Phase II data.

"The reason for the relocation is ultimately to do with financial markets," Gareth Beynon, CEO, told BioWorld International. "We believe for BioVex, Nasdaq is the market to be on because we hope to raise significant amounts of cash as we move forward in development. As I just told our employees, the ability of BioVex to make this move sets us on a much more secure financial future."

Apart from U.S. financiers being more receptive to biotechnology in general, Beynon said there is greater understanding of the company's products. "Investors in the U.S. understand cancer vaccines; there are more U.S. companies developing them, and you've just got to be in among [your peers]."

Another factor in the move to Cambridge, Mass., is the availability of good manufacturing practice (GMP) facilities. "Our process development is in Oxford and we have been looking for some time for a manufacturing facility. There are a number of GMP-grade buildings available around Boston that you can't find elsewhere, so we won't have to start from the ground up," Beynon said.

The U.S. operation will be run by Philip Astley-Sparke, president and CEO. R&D will continue to be based in the UK.

At the same time, BioVex announced it has FDA clearance for a Phase II trial of OncoVEX GM-CSF, its oncolytic vaccine for the treatment of solid tumors. A U.S. trial in malignant melanoma will start soon, followed by Phase II trials in head and neck cancer in London, pancreatic cancer in the Netherlands, and lung cancer at a center to be decided.

OncoVEX GM-CSF consists of a modified herpes simplex virus with a single gene deletion that renders it harmless to normal cells, while retaining the ability to replicate in, and destroy, cancer cells. In addition, it carries the gene for the immune stimulator, granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor.

A second product, ImmunoVEX tri-melan, in Phase I/II trials in Canada and the UK, uses herpes simplex to deliver three melanoma-associated genes to dendritic cells, leading to a cellular immune response. The ImmunoVEX platform is being developed for treating infectious diseases also. Beynon said the company has good preclinical data in genital herpes and expects to start a Phase I trial in the first quarter of 2006.

BioVex has enough money to start those trials and run the company until mid-2006. Beynon said the plan is to raise a further private round. "This will take us into 2007 and give us flexibility to plan when to IPO," he said.

BioVEX was spun out of University College London in 1999 and has raised £30 million (US$54.6 million) to date.